Leave Hope Solo Alone!

Leave Hope Solo Alone!

If the world wants everyone to play nice, maybe reporters should stop sticking microphones in athletes’ faces following intense games.
Vanessa Oblinger-Santos
By

The way the media, courts and now U.S. Soccer have treated Hope Solo has got me just about ready to grab a blanket, some heavy mascara and make a Chris Crocker-style “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE” webcam video for Team USA’s goalkeeper.

Fresh after Hope Solo became the first goalkeeper, male or female, to reach the 200-cap in international play, the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) suffered a devastating penalty shootout loss against Sweden which caused its elimination from the Rio 2016 Olympic games.

Following the loss, Solo called Sweden a “bunch of cowards” and criticized ex-USA coach Pia Sundhage, who now helms Team Sweden. As a response, U.S. Soccer announced Solo’s six-month suspension this week for “conduct that is counter to the organization’s principles.” U.S. Soccer also terminated Solo’s contract, effective immediately. Solo will not be eligible to sign a new contract with the national team until February 2017.

Here are Solo’s comments in full.

But the media is leaving out the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, where USWNT’s foes openly criticized its style of play. These opponents included Australia – who blasted USWNT on its official website following the Americans’ win over the Matildas with a brutal list that begins: “1. The USA, well, they just aren’t that good…,” and none other than Sweden’s head coach Pia Sundhage who chastised some of the American players in a New York Times profile by Sam Borden on June 9, 2015 titled Pia Sundhage of Sweden Is a Coach at Home on the Move. In the profile Sundhage said Solo was one of the most challenging players she had ever coached, “especially when it comes to trouble.”

If name-calling and poor sportsmanship was excused for the Australia and Sweden head coaches in the Women’s World Cup, Solo should be able to walk away from her remarks made in Rio unscathed. If we want to talk about athletes deserving suspension following adrenaline-fueled post-game remarks, let’s take a look back at the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman interview with ESPN’s Erin Andrews after winning the NFL title game in January 2014 against San Francisco.

If the world wants everyone to play nice, maybe reporters should stop sticking microphones in athletes’ faces following intense games – especially when it’s an athlete who just experienced a loss. There is no doubt that viewers and reporters alike want something juicy and controversial following a dramatic game to perpetuate rivalries. It’s inevitable that they’re going to get heated remarks sometimes when interviewing passionate competitive players who just poured their heart and soul into a losing game. As Sherman’s case proves, reporters can also get a juicy controversial quote from players following a winning game.

In the official statement from U.S. Soccer, president Sunil Gulati said the suspension was based on reasons that exceeded Solo’s coward comment, “Taking into consideration the past incidents involving Hope, as well as the private conversations we’ve had requiring her to conduct herself in a manner befitting a U.S. National Team member, U.S. Soccer determined this is the appropriate disciplinary action.”

Though insisting he wasn’t comparing Hope Solo to Donald Sterling, ESPN’s Max Kellerman directly compared her suspension to Donald Sterling’s NBA ban, when he said her comments were “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Keller said Solo’s suspension is an attempt by U.S. Soccer to, at least temporarily, get rid of a “high-profile troublemaker.”

Kellerman is right. If you read Solo’s remarks in full, it’s clear the punishment does not fit the crime. If Hope’s previous “incidents” (including the 2014 domestic violence charges for punching her 6’8” 270-lb 17-year-old nephew) were such an issue, she should’ve been punished accordingly when the incidents took place. U.S. Soccer should not have allowed a rap sheet to build only to knock her down after she lets in a couple goals.

At 35, Solo is a world-class athlete. Having earned her 100th shutout earlier this year in July, Solo is the USA’s all-time leader in goalkeeper caps, starts, wins, and shutouts. Solo has been the USWNT’s key to success in international championships since she joined the team in 2000 – including winning Olympic Golds in 2008 and 2012, the 2015 World Cup Championship, the World Cup runner-up in 2011 and playing in the 2007 World Cup. It’s absurd that U.S. Soccer turns a blind eye on its star player’s “conduct that is counter to the organization’s principles,” until the team is eliminated from Rio.

The U.S. Women’s National Team is a shining beam of light for women’s sports. The American women’s 5-2 World Cup win against Japan was the most-watched soccer game of all time in the U.S., with over 26 million viewers. The team has seen enough success to make the compelling case for pay equal to their male counterparts – so why are we seeing a punishment scale disproportionate to men’s sports where the women are punished worse for less?

As a point of reference, here is just a few of the very many instances in the last five years where male athletes received a lot less punishment for a lot more than calling an opponent a “coward:”

  1. Ray Rice was initially only suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season after his altercation with then-fiancee Janay Palmer where he was caught on camera striking her unconscious in a casino elevator and then dragging her on the ground.
  1. In 2014, for “deflategate” Tom Brady was only suspended by the NFL for four games.
  1. In 2011, Ndamukong Suh was suspended by the NFL for just two games for stomping on Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s face.
  1. Michael Phelps was suspended from USOC for six months after his second DUI in 2014.
  1. In 2015 when Jonathan Papelbon choked his teammate Bryce Harper, the Nationals suspended him for four games and the MLB levied an additional three-game suspension.

Most recently, after causing an international scandal in Rio this month, Ryan Lochte is looking at a maximum of a six-month suspension from USOC – which would equate to the same suspension time as Hope Solo for calling Sweden “cowards.”  Sources connected to Lochte say six months is too harsh and anything more is just “a vengeance to appease the media and the public.” Lochte is also slated to do the 23rd season ABC’s Dancing with the Stars (the official celebrity correctional facility for shame) premiering in September.

Like Paula Deen was able to dance away her racism, Lochte will now get his opportunity to dance away his scandal and America will fall back in love with their favorite childlike party-boy athlete… but because Hope already had her run on Dancing with the Stars with Maksim Chmerkovskiy (which failed,) the “witch hunt,” as Solo’s husband (former NFL player Jerramy Stevens) calls it, will continue.

Vanessa Oblinger-Santos is the director of media relations at Javelin, a literary agency and communications firm based in Alexandria, Virginia. Formerly, she played for the Women’s Premier Soccer League on the Maryland Capitals and now plays in recreational soccer leagues across the D.M.V. area.

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